Rubber checks bounce in a Chinese boom
An Australian condom brand known in China as Jissbon is well placed to profit from a revolution in sexual education in the world's second-largest economy.
An escalation of HIV, syphilis, genital herpes and other sex-spread infections is spurring demand for knowledge and condoms in China, where intrauterine devices and sterilisation are the mainstays of birth control.
About 9.2 billion condoms were sold in China last year, according to a report by Global Industry Analysts.
Sales are predicted to reach 14.6 billion by 2018 amid "unprecedented growth", due to a similar growth in reproductive healthcare products.
Mickie Leong heads a China unit for Ansell that sells the Jissbon condom (which sounds in Chinese like "James Bond") and says it will be a "huge and growing market" for a long time.
Guo Si, who moved to Beijing from neighbouring Hebei province in 2012, said she had never before had sex education at school, which is not uncommon in China. Now, colleges such as Guo's Tsinghua University are holding classes and dispensing free rubbers in vending machines.
The market is forecast to increase 9 per cent annually to reach $US1 billion ($1.09 billion) by 2018, benefiting suppliers such as Ansell and Reckitt Benckiser Group, the maker of Durex condoms. Reckitt Benckiser said in April that revenue in Latin America and Asia-Pacific jumped 11 per cent in the first quarter, helped by Durex sales in China. Better distribution there had driven the condom brand's growth, the company said in its latest annual report.
Still, condom use in China is growing from a low base. Wuhan Jissbon Sanitary Products, which Melbourne-based Ansell bought in 2006, has annual revenue of $US12 million and is the second-largest condom manufacturer in China, with 10 per cent market share, Credit Suisse says in a June 21 report.
Thirty years ago, intrauterine devices or IUDs accounted for half of birth control methods used in China, with tubal ligation making up a quarter. Condom use was only 2 per cent, researchers reported in 1983. Condoms' share of the contraception market now exceeds 4 per cent, according to the University of Southern California.
Less than 40 per cent of people in China aged 15 to 24 received sex education at school, according to a 2009 survey of 22,288 youths by the Peking University's Institute of Population Research.
At its campus hospital in north Beijing, Tsinghua University has installed a vending machine that dispenses free condoms while doling out sexual advice on a television screen.
A cartoon plays in a continuous loop featuring an egg-shaped "Ms Contraception" discussing how androgen-blocking contraceptive pills for women can also counter pimples.
Authorities in Hefei, the provincial capital of Anhui, are dispensing free condoms in nine machines scattered across the city.